Top of page

Several cardboard boxes sit waiting the next leg of their journey.
Boxes of African newspapers gather on the loading dock access area on a temporary stop. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024

From Kenya with Love

Share this post:

It was a cool and cloudy morning on Capitol Hill. Weeks of rain had finally given way to the first heated gusts of summer as the Memorial Day holiday approached. I had just reviewed a comment on my new blog post that went live that morning, “Ode to a LaserJet Printer,” when a new message came in from the boss. The message was a simple “FYI” but the subject line held the intrigue, “Re: Nairobi shipment to LC.” This would not be your ordinary Thursday in the Processing and Preparation Section (PPS).

Nairobi hosts one of six overseas offices of the Library of Congress, working to acquire local texts and knowledge to add to our ever-expansive collection. Staff in the Kenyan capital spread out across 30 countries from Angola to Zimbabwe, splitting the African continent with the Cairo office and the West Africa Project, currently in development in Dakar, Senegal. They recently had shipped out 118 boxes of newspapers to be digitized and they were beginning to arrive at Ronald Reagan National Airport in DC.

Space has always been a premium on the Hill, especially among the three main buildings of the Library. So when the shipment began to arrive, the search was on for a holding spot for those boxes as they cleared customs and security scans. That email that graced my inbox was the conclusion of a back and forth between staff of the Collection Digitization Division, the shipping contractor, and my section supervisor, Eltoro Davis. The final result being alerting my colleagues to clear a space in our packing area off the loading dock. We had 118 boxes of newspapers incoming ASAP.

Empty space in the loading dock access area of the PPS space.
With the last shipments having crossed paths the previous Friday, the dock area had plenty of space for the moment. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024.


It was some quick maneuvering by Aaron Chaletzky, head of the Digital Reformatting Section and a former RCA for this blog, in fact the person that brought me on board. The boxes were coming in bits at a time and there was no room at the Section’s offices in the Adams Building. They needed to go to offsite storage at Cabin Branch, but only once all 118 had been received. The email chain was a frenetic back and forth as Chaletzky and Hannah Noel, the digital conversion specialist that oversees the operation, looked for an answer. In stepped PPS, offering up space on our loading dock access area to collect the newspapers before the entire lot could move along together.

It is a distance of 12,135 km from Nairobi to Washington, or 7,547 miles for those not big on the Metric system. International shipping company DHL conducted the transfer, from Kenya to Heathrow Airport in London, then to the DHL sorting facility in New York City and finally to National Airport, about four days total travel time.  The delivery came in piecemeal, causing the problem. The entire shipment must be present and accounted for before it could be delivered to the Collections Management Division (CMD) at Cabin Branch, and as of 9:00 am that Thursday morning, only seven boxes had arrived. Twenty-four hours later, they were neatly stacked in the PPS space, and 13 more joined them by the end of Friday.

The first seven holding newspapers from Cameroon, Kenya, Senegal, and Zimbabwe.
The first seven boxes out of the 118 sit waiting for its friends on a lonely skid separated from the regular binding crates. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024


We have also worked with the overseas offices in Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, and Jakarta to coordinate shipments straight to the vendor in the past,” Noel said by email. “Both Cairo and Jakarta will be participating in shipping materials for storage to Cabin Branch later this year as well.”

From seven to twenty, now taking up two skids
Twenty boxes would spend the Memorial Day weekend calling PPS their home. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024.


Looking across the boxes, each marked with a different newspaper and the number of boxes per publication. The Cameroon Tribune stood out first, published in English and French daily since 1993. Next I saw The Standard from Kenya, which has been publishing daily (except Sundays) since the earlier 1900’s. Following that was The People Daily, also from Kenya, publishing daily even on Sundays since 1998. From Senegal was SUD Quotidien, a French-language daily published in Dakar since 1998. At the far end of the alphabet was The Zimbabwe Independent, a weekly out of Harare with a 30-year history. More would come after the holiday, with titles such as 5-Plus Dimanche, The Ethiopian Herald, Midi Madagasikara, and Xog-ogaal.

All boxes assembled, ready to head back offsite.
The day after Memorial Day, all 118 boxes are ready and waiting at PPS. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024.


These newspapers were acquired by the Nairobi Field Office, led by Director William Kopycki and processed by Catherine Thuku, head of serials cataloging, and her staff. The Cooperative Acquisitions Program has been operating out of the U.S. Embassy since 1992, but part of the U.S. diplomatic mission to Kenya since 1966, and currently has 24 staff including Kopycki and Thuku.

I reached out to Kopycki and he sent along this report:

“For the Library’s overseas offices, collecting daily newspapers from the countries they cover can be an enormous task. In the case of Nairobi Office, many of the 30 countries has at least one “bibliographic representative”— paid contractor whose task it is to make sure that one copy of important daily and weekly newspapers are collected as they are published. In some countries, such as Kenya or Uganda, this is a relatively simple task as there is newspaper distribution that deliver newspapers to retail outlets such as corner kiosks, bookstores, and other points of sale. Some representatives receive these subscriptions at their homes. The work of these bibliographic representatives is further supported by regular travel of Nairobi Office staff to these countries to provide oversight for the work done by the representative, as well as renewing any newspaper subscriptions as needed.

The Embassy staff saved copies that filled the gaps in collections during the pandemic.
Head of Acquisitions John Gichuru at the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti reviewing their copies of La Nation newspaper, in search fills and small runs from the time we were not able to acquire. Photo Credit: William Kopycki, 2023.


“Political and social unrest in certain countries may lead to that newspaper being ceased for a period of time, issues not delivered, or altogether ceased. The job of the bibliographic representative is to follow-up, especially when there may be missing issues, and collect these for the Library. The strength of any given newspaper title is in having a complete run of all printed issues.

Newspapers from across the continent are gathered and stored before enough copies have arrived to process.
The staging area in the Nairobi Office’s compact shelving where they accumulate issues as they are received until there is sufficient quantity to ship. Photo Credit: William Kopycki, 2024.


“Once a sufficient quantity of newspapers is collected by the representative, which could be monthly or quarterly, the representative makes the effort to pack and ship them to Nairobi Office. Upon receipt, Nairobi Office staff review what has been received, claiming any missing issues from the representative, who then will make any attempt to acquire the missing issues or confirm that they are not otherwise available. Here, timeliness is the key to success.

Nairobi Office staff use the locally available software to acquire newspapers and begin the cataloging process.
Catherine Thuku (head of serials cataloging, standing) and her staff Ruth Sitonik (serials technician), reviewing newspaper check-in in their local system, OFORS. Photo Credit: William Kopycki, 2024.


“In other countries, such as Djibouti, the office works with the publisher of the newspaper La Nation, until COVID era when it became difficult for them to ship copies to Nairobi. When travel restrictions opened up and Nairobi’s Head of Acquisitions, John Gichuru, was finally able to make a new trip there in 2023, he discovered that the publisher was not able to save all the issues needed. The “Plan B” solution came thanks to the staff at the U.S. Embassy who receive this newspaper and retained copies. With John’s communication and good relations with the staff there, he was able to not only acquire the missing issues from 2023, but also filled in gaps with issues going as far back as 2016. This is but one of the methods that Nairobi Office, and indeed, all the overseas offices, may follow when ensuring that full runs of newspapers are being saved—and subsequently preserved—for the Library and its future patrons.”

Bundled with care
John Agadala, serials preservation technician, packing a box of newspapers after wrapping the bundles in plastic as an additional barrier against damage while en route to Washington. Photo Credit: William Kopycki, 2024.


Just as quickly as the boxes had arrived in PPS, they were gone. By mid-day on Wednesday, May 29th, all had been picked up by CMD and shipped up to Cabin Branch to be stored for an indeterminate time.

“We’re storing these items in Cabin Branch because we’re at the end of our five-year contract with FEDLINK, and there’s no guarantee the current vendor will be awarded the next contract (which will be stood up on October 1, 2024),” Chaletzky said by email. “So, rather than have those pages shipped directly to the current vendor, which is what we’ve been doing now for the past two years, we’ve opted to store them until we know who the next vendor will be. Once we know who’s gotten the award, we’ll arrange for the vendor to pick up those pages and begin the cycle of shipments that typically make up a given contract year.”

The space is cleared once more ahead of PPS beginining to pack the next shipment.
A week later and the floor is empty once again, but not for long as it was time to prepare for the next bindery shipment. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024

From there they will be sorted and take the next steps toward becoming part of the Library’s vast holdings. This means leaving the Library’s possession temporarily, just as the thousands of books leave PPS every other week.

“When the vendor ultimately takes possession, they’ll collate the pages, provide pencil corrections and iron the pages to smooth them out under a camera,” Chaletzky added. “They’ll digitize to our JP2 specification, and also provide a PDF/A, which will be the presentation vehicle on For project scale, we’re looking at roughly 3.9 million pages of digitized content next year – and each contract year after that. So, the boxes you saw on the loading dock are a drop in the proverbial bucket.”

Noel put the whole kit and kaboodle into focus: “We’ve been running the newspaper digitization contract for five years now and have been working with Overseas Operations for about two years, and have digitized about 14 million newspaper pages in that time.”

For the PPS staff, it was just a moment of time, but a notable part of the thousand-mile journey to put these pages in a researcher’s hand. These newspapers, once digitized, will further shrink the world, making it accessible to everyone that clicks on over to That is a goal we can all take pride in.

Subscribe to the blog— it’s free! — to learn how the largest library in the world preserves the coolest stuff in the world.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *